Innovation in Medicine

I am becoming more and more convinced that the greatest opportunity to impact patient behavior and lifestyle choices (the single greatest contributor to one’s health) begin in the community and the idea that a clinic is the catalyst for change or hub of health promotion is obsolete.

What if instead of placing more value (square feet) in “innovative” buildings where doctors exist, we placed value (money) in innovative solutions centered in our communities, where the circumstances that beget health disparities exist? What if some* health issues are really social justices issues – shared problems that are contingent upon resources, access, education, and literacy? If that is true, as I believe it is, then doctors don’t have all the answers and clinics aren’t the only cure.

So the question becomes:

How can our institutions of health bend toward the need and stay relevant in the spaces where people live, work, and play?

I have one idea.

Social media – or the technology and web-based tools used to connect people, resources, and ideas – offers an incredible opportunity for physicians to meet patients where they are, and the data suggests, patients are online. Advancing community engagement initiatives in medicine demands new solutions to complex and challenging problems. Future success relies on how well medicine, as a field, takes advantage of the technology to broadly disseminate credible health information in a space where patients set the agenda. Moreover, using social media to create partnerships between key stakeholders in community health, including community advocates and local and state government, can revolutionize our current models of care and add civic engagement to a physician’s repertoire of treatment modalities.

Admittedly, social media is not the entire solution. But, embracing new technologies to eliminate traditional barriers that prevent the medical system from responding to healthcare needs in holistic and systemic ways, is an important start. Future work must address the potential health disparities that may be created when access to health information is contingent upon access to the internet. However, much is being done to advance mobile health solutions to ensure that everyone benefits from the sharing of information and pooling of resources likely to mark the new age of social media in medicine.

Exploring the uses of social media in medicine is a growing interest of mine and I am fortunate to be connected to a few leaders in the field who are really blazing the trail including Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, Bryan Vartabedian, MD, Ricky Choi, MD, and Heidi Roman, MD. Click on their name and follow them on twitter!

What do you think about social media in medicine?

Footnote: * Some medical problems clearly require medical care that can best be provided in a hospital and/or clinic setting and patients with such ailments rightfully deserve the benefits new technology and innovative medical strategies may bring to bear on their treatment course. This statement is only meant to highlight the growing number of patients who rely on our healthcare system because of problems that currently lie outside the purview of “physician” responsibilities. This illustrates the need for partnerships between physicians, patients, community advocates, and local government to collectively address the needs in our communities that beget major health problems and significant health disparities.


5 thoughts on “Innovation in Medicine

  1. I love this idea! I have been toying with community health initiatives lately and have read studies where participants stated again and again that the hours of the clinic were inconvenient to them. Furthermore, I feel that the sum of these clinics in a city/town cannot support the number of patients that need them. Reaching out to patients online allows them to improve their health on their own time and allows healthcare practitioners to reach a greater number of people. Additionally many health resources are inadequate or inaccurate; being able to quickly edit and disseminate information online is a fantastic tool.

    • Thanks Jennifer! As my mentor Dr. V often says, medicine’s use of social media is only limited by our imaginations! To that end, I think e-medicine or using the internet as a portal to interact with patients and direct clinical care is a really interesting and exciting opportunity that now exists. At the same time, I think it will be important, as we optimize the use of technology in medicine, to preserve the intimate clinical interactions that can only happen at the bedside. Ultimately, I hope medicine develops a synergistic relationship with technology, where both help the other to be more effective. Thanks again for reading my post!

  2. Nice post, Rhea. This concept of meeting patients where they are represents a critical element in patient education. Our institutions see the future of medicine through a rear view mirror (a medical bastardization of Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote) and our jobs are viewed in the context of 20th century workflows and beliefs. We think that education can only happen under the harsh glare of a fluorescent light. These are the tools of a new generation and they should be our tools as providers.

    Wendy and I both feel strongly about the obligation to participate in content creation and dialog. This, of course, adds another interesting layer to the debate.

    On a technical note, I might add that I love your clean style, direct voice and judicious use of white space. The whole experience of understanding your thinking is easy on me. Few people do that well.

    I look forward to more.

    • Dr. V!! I have to admit, you are a huge inspiration to me and the fact that you read my post, let alone commented on it, makes my day! Thank you! I completely agree. I think (or hope) the future of medicine will change as the people in medicine change. In my eyes, you and Wendy represent a new guard and I hope future generations like myself, continue to redefine what it means to be a physician and in doing so change how our field thinks about health and health-care.

      And thanks for mentioning Marshall McLuhan. I wasn’t familiar with him, but really enjoyed reading about his thoughts tonight!

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